Monday, May 30, 2011

Shrimp Scampi

While researching the proper way to make scampi, I was surprised by two things.  One, it doesn't refer to the pasta dish, just the shellfish part.  And two, lobster can be called shrimp scampi.  Huh?

I got this recipe from the Food Network, but I'm using more butter so it also works as a pasta sauce.  If serving the shrimp by themselves, only use 2 Tb.  And I did use actual butter because I didn't want the result to be oily.  I upped the garlic, because you can never have too much :).  While most versions of the recipe have you broil the shrimp, these are pan-fried.  They look and taste almost the same, so why bother with the oven?

Like anything with shrimp in it, this cooks quickly.  If you're having it over pasta, wait until the pasta is half done before heating the skillet.  Everything should finish around the same time.

The nice thing about scampi is that you probably have all the ingredients for the sauce lying around.  Just pick up some raw shrimp, and you're 15 minutes away from dinner.

1 to 1-1/2 lb jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined (butterflied optional)
kosher salt and pepper
1/4 C butter
2 tsp parsley flakes (or 1 Tb chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tb fresh lemon juice, plus 1/4 tsp lemon zest
1/4 C dry white wine or vermouth

1.  Place prepared shrimp on a pie plate and pat dry with a paper towel.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2.  Heat large skillet over medium.  Melt butter, raise heat to high, and add shrimp all at once in a single layer.  (Food Network recommends inverting the pie plate to let them drop into the skillet.  I had marginal luck with that.)

3.  Cook shrimp without stirring for 1 minute.  Add garlic and cook another minute.  Turn shrimp over and cook for 2 minutes on other side.  Remove shrimp to a clean plate while you make the sauce.

4.  Add wine and lemon juice to pan.  Allow to boil until slightly thickened, about 30 seconds.  Use a wooden spoon to scrape any clinging bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add lemon zest and parsley.  Arrange shrimp on serving plates (or on top of pasta) and drizzle with sauce.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Vichyssoise is kind of a fancy name for potato-leek soup, but it also implies a creaminess that you don't get with every potato soup.  I usually make this with russet potatoes, but I had some baby red ones on hand and used them instead.  Smoothest, creamiest vichyssoise I've ever had.  Pain in the rear to peel because of the indented eyes, but worth the trouble.

Traditionally, this soup is served chilled.  However, it tastes just as good piping hot.  My only caveat is to watch the salt.  You taste salt more when a food is hot than when it's cold.  If you season this to have it cold, then heat it up, it may be too salty.  I'd rather have it slightly under-seasoned and put a shaker on the table.

I'm not sure why all the recipes I've found lately for vegetable soups use chicken broth.  I used it for this, and it did give it body.  For vegetarians, I'm going to assume a veggie broth will work.

I broke with the rule about garnishes being from one of the ingredients because Papa Smurf wanted green onions.  My mom always put them on her vichyssoise.  You should use very thin slices of leek as a more appropriate garnish.

This is loosely based on the Bible's recipe.

1 medium leek
1 Tb butter
*1 lb red potatoes
1 15 oz can chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 C half-and-half
salt and white pepper to taste

1.  Cut leek in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly.  Slice very thinly crosswise only the white and light-green parts to make 2/3 C.  Slice a bit more and reserve for garnish.

2.  Peel red potatoes and remove eyes.  Slice 1/4" thick, and leave slices in a bowl of cold water until ready to use.

3.  Melt butter in a 2-qt saucepan.  Add leeks and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and broth.  Heat to boiling, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and allow to cook 30 minutes.

4.  Purée mixture in a blender until completely smooth.  Strain into serving container.  Add half-and-half, taste, and add salt and white pepper as needed.  Chill until ready to serve.

Makes 4 12-oz appetizer servings

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Salad Dressings

I haven't gone on a hoarding-related rant in a while.

I'm not all that into salads, but Papa Smurf is.  He thinks they're as good as eating your veggies.  Sometimes they are, but not when you buy those bags of chopped Iceberg with shreds of carrot and cabbage in them.  Mostly, bagged salads are a nutritional black hole.  Then, you go and put highly fattening dressings on them.  Store-bought dressings average 100 calories per tablespoon, and those calories are often all fat.

So, how do you improve on this standard of the appetizer world?  For starters, use a leafy green as your base.  Spinach, green-leaf lettuce, even Romaine is better than Iceberg.  That's just  cellulose-encased water.  Next, garnish with something beneficial like grape tomatoes, beets, or even green beans.  And once you've composed the salad, make your own dressing.

My favorite dressing is balsamic vinegar.  Not vinaigrette, just the vinegar.  Lots of flavor, no fat.  Lemon or tangerine juice with a small amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper comes in a close second.  For creamy dressings, you can use nonfat sour cream, nonfat yogurt, or soy-based mayo to create ranch or bleu cheese.

I guess what I'm trying to explain is that a salad is its ingredients, not whatever you put on top to mask their flavor.  A dressing should be just that, a subtle flavoring to enhance the ingredients and bring them to a logical conclusion.  There is no reason an entire shelf of a fridge should be taken up by an array of store-bought dressings.  Besides, dressings do have expiration dates on them.  You shouldn't keep them indefinitely, especially because all that fat will make them go rancid, even in the fridge.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Steamed Artichoke

Artichoke season is upon us.  These rather expensive veggies are the unopened bud of a type of thistle that is grown mostly in mediterranean climates... You know what, if you care that much, here's the Wikipedia page.  And don't cut your artichokes open like the photo unless you have a plan.  I just thought it looked cool.

It's kind of daunting when you get one of these things home, then have to figure out what to do with it.  That's why canned artichoke hearts exist.  If you're making a salad, go ahead and use that.  Steaming them yourself is for when you want to serve them whole.

Generally, I allow two people per whole artichoke, and don't count them as part of the calorie makeup of my meal.  Whatever dressing you use (mayo, lemon butter, balsamic vinaigrette, etc) will supply more calories than the actual veggie.  Feel free to serve a second green veggie, or use this as your appetizer.

2 large globe artichokes
dressing of choice

1.  To prepare artichokes, slice off stem so that they sit flat and don't roll.  With a serrated knife, slice top flat so that inner choke is exposed (see photo).  With sharp kitchen shears, snip off points from all remaining leaves.

2.  Place artichokes in a casserole large enough to hold them comfortably.  Add 2" of water and wrap tightly with plastic wrap.  Microwave for 6 minutes, rotate, and microwave for 4 more minutes.  Allow to sit until cool enough to handle.

3.  Remove artichokes to work surface.  With a spoon and your fingers, work around the middle of each artichoke until the fibrous choke and softest leaves pull out, leaving the heart and thicker leaves intact.  If using a thick sauce like mayonnaise or hollandaise, you can fill the cavity with the dressing.  For thinner sauces, serve them in a side cup.  Plate and serve.

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

Papa Smurf is addicted to Einstein Bros / Noah's Bagels chocolate chip streusel coffee cake.  He was running low on the ones in the freezer, so I decided to reverse-engineer one based on the list of ingredients in the nutritional information.  The batter and crumb are manufactured by a company in New York state called The Magnificent Muffin, and it's trans-fat free. Mine might not be, but you can easily find ingredients to make yours that way.  Bear in mind, there's still a bunch of fat, and the calorie count is absurd.

I based the quantities on my Apple Coffee Cake, modifying as I went along for the different ingredients.  This is a more liquid batter, and works equally well for muffins.  I decided to buy egg whites in a carton because I wasn't sure how many I'd end up using.  They're more liquid than if you separate an egg, but the batter came out the consistency I was hoping for.

I did make one big change by stirring half the chips into the batter.  The only reason I don't like the cakes at Einstein's is because the flavoring is only on the top.  When I bring one of those home, I flip it over and slice off half of the cake.  I eat the topping, crumb, and enough cake to hold it together.  Better topping-to-cake ratio, in my opinion.  And I prefer the apple or berry cakes, as much as I love chocolate.

Don't go out to buy vanilla powder if you don't have it.  Extract will make the crumb a bit more moist, but it should come out fine.  I just happened to have some in the spice cabinet.

You can easily alter the recipe to fit any flavoring.  The crumb and batter are all-purpose.  Just replace the chocolate chips with berries, nuts, or whatever and change the vanilla to the spice or extract which works best.

And 1/8 C is 2 Tb, or one ounce.  You can use a coffee scoop, jigger, or shot glass with a line.

Crumb Topping
1/2 C flour
1-1/2 Tb shortening
1-1/2 Tb margarine
1/8 C sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla powder or extract
dash salt

1.  Cut shortening and margarine into flour to make coarse crumbs.

2.  Stir in sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

1 C flour
1/2 C sugar
2 egg whites (1/3 C)
1/4 C soybean (or vegetable) oil
1/4 C sour cream
1/8 C (2 Tb) corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
*1 C semisweet chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 350º and spray an 8" round cake pan with pan spray.  In a bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

2.  In a separate bowl, combine egg whites, oil, sour cream, corn syrup, and vanilla.

3.  Combine dry and wet ingredients.  Mix until almost smooth.  Stir in 1/2 C of the chocolate chips.

4.  Pour batter into cake pan.  Spread crumb topping evenly over batter.  Sprinkle topping with remaining 1/2 C of chocolate chips.  Bake for 35 minutes at 350º, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool to room temperature before removing from pan.

Molly helps with the dishes
Makes one 8" cake

For muffins:  Place muffin liners in muffin pan, and use pan spray.  Fill cups 2/3 of the way, top with about 1 Tb of streusel, and sprinkle with chips.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.  Makes about 12.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chilled Cucumber Soup with Mint

It's that time of year again.  Cold soups are great when it's hot out.  One bit of advice: to keep your guests from thinking that you forgot to reheat the soup, make sure it is very cold.  Maybe 15 minutes before serving, put the soup and bowls in the freezer.  That way, it will be colder than just refrigerated when it is served.  Some chilled soups are served in a double-bowl, with the bottom one filled with ice.  Another neat way to serve them is in a wine or daquiri glass placed on a small plate.  I highly recommend garnishes, so they don't look like smoothies.

This recipe started as a half-batch of the Bible's, then I messed with it.

2 C chopped cucumber (about 1 large)
1/2 C chopped green onion
2 Tb butter
2 Tb flour
1 15-oz can chicken or vegetable broth (reduced-sodium or low-salt is ok)
1 Tb fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 C half-and-half
salt to taste

1.  In a deep skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add cucumbers and onions.  Cook until onions are tender, about 5 minutes.

2.  Sprinkle flour into pan.  Stir until pan juices have been absorbed by the flour.  It will look pasty.  Slowly add broth.  Bring to a boil and stir frequently until mixture thickens.  Add mint and stir into mixture.  Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and allow to cook for 10 minutes.

3.  Cool soup in refrigerator, about an hour.  Purée in blender until very smooth.  Pour through a mesh sieve to remove any larger pieces.  Stir in half-and-half.  Taste and add salt if necessary.  Remember, the taste of salt is dulled the colder a food is.  The soup shouldn't taste very salty, but it will bring out the flavor of the onions.

4.  Chill until ready to serve.  Add mint sprigs or cucumber slices to garnish.

Makes 4  12 oz appetizer servings

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taco Night

Darn, I forgot the salsa.

For Cinco de Mayo, I decided to do tacos.  Kind of went overboard, but it only took half an hour to put everything together.

At the market, I looked at the packets of taco seasonings.  I had all that stuff in the spice cabinet and decided to do it myself.  Chili powder, onion salt, paprika or cayenne, salt and pepper to taste.  I threw in some Lawry's Seasoned Salt for good measure.  Just brown up the ground beef, add spices shortly before it's done, and you're good to go.

The rest of the fillings:
Not-Refried Beans
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour Cream
Guacamole (store-bought because avocados were $2 each)
Diced Tomatoes
Chopped Green Onions
Chopped Cilantro
Shredded Lettuce
Sliced Olives

It's great to have everything laid out on the table, so everyone can make exactly what they want.  A selection of either soft flour tortillas or crunchy corn shells will round out the special treat.

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Fish Cakes

Papa Smurf brought home a Costco-sized container of rockfish fillets.  It then became my job to figure out how to cook it.

First up was a simple coat of seasoned bread crumbs, pan fried.  Good, easy, but not really memorable.  Next, he wanted them breaded in corn meal before frying.  Not so good.  I baked them with freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, and pepper another time, which is how I usually do salmon.  This was when we both realized that rockfish doesn't really taste good without some serious help.

With two fillets to go, I was up for anything.  The secret seemed to be adding a lot of strong flavoring.  I took a crab cake recipe and jazzed it up.  Perfect.  I had mine with lemon wedges, but Papa Smurf liked the pseudo-tartar sauce I whipped up, so I'll put that here, too.

*1 lb rockfish (or another white fish like tilapia or snapper)
2 Tb lemon juice
1 tsp kosher salt
*1/2 C bread crumbs
2 Tb mayonnaise
1 Tb chopped fresh parsley or 1 tsp parsley flakes
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
2 tsp deli mustard (or dijon)
*1 tsp white horseradish
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
1 egg
1/4 C butter
lemon wedges and tartar sauce for serving

1.  Fill a frying pan 1" deep with water.  Add lemon juice and kosher salt and bring to a simmer.  Add fish and simmer until opaque, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain, and allow to cool.  (You can rinse out the pan and use it later, saving yourself 1 dish.)

2.  Flake fish into very small pieces in a bowl.  Add bread crumbs, mayo, parsley, worcestershire, mustard, horseradish, salt, and pepper.  Stir until evenly mixed.  Beat egg slightly and add to fish mixture.

3.  In a clean skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and watch to keep from scorching.  Add fish mixture in 1/4 C dollops.  Fry each patty until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes.  Flip, press down slightly, and fry 3 minutes on other side.

4.  Serve hot, accompanied by lemon wedges and tartar sauce.

Tartar sauce

1/2 C mayonnaise
1 Tb parsley or 1 tsp parsley flakes
1 Tb sweet pickle relish
1/2 tsp dill weed
1/8 tsp salt

1.  Stir together all ingredients until evenly mixed.  Chill until ready to use.

makes 1/2 cup

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese sandwiches are really more of a concept than a recipe.  I was inspired by the blog Grilled Cheese Social to have one.

The sandwich in the photo is Stilton with pears and apples on sourdough.  Papa Smurf bought the cheese, then decided he didn't like it, so I've been finding uses.  Some went in a quiche, and I think the rest will end up in sandwiches.

The parts of your basic grilled cheese are as follows:

1.  Bread -  It doesn't have to be Wonder White with Velveeta in a grilled cheese.  Sourdough, rye, whole grain, and just about any sliced bread works.  I'm trying to use up my Passover matzah.  Technically, a quesadilla is a type of grilled cheese sandwich.  Open your horizons.

2.  Cheese - Again, don't be afraid to experiment.  And you can use more than one type of cheese in the sandwich.  The softness of Brie may be just what it takes to make a hard cheese like Parmesan melt properly.  Pretty much anything you can find in even the fanciest markets would work, if paired correctly with the appropriate bread.

3.  Garnishes - This is anything between the slices that is not cheese.  I put minced green onions on this one.  A lot of people like tomatoes.  You could go all outre and use truffle shavings or leftover barbecued chicken.  (Actually, that sounds pretty good.)  Consider your bread and cheese choices, and go for it.

4.  Butter or oil -  The bread will not brown when you heat it without some kind of fat.  The two main methods are a) coat the pan and then put in the bread, or b) spread the butter on the bread and then place it in the hot pan.  I prefer the latter, because it's easier to control the amount used.

Now, for the basic how-to:

1.  Preheat skillet over medium heat.  Spread 1 tsp butter on "outer" sides of two slices of bread.  Place bread butter-side down in skillet and lower heat to medium-low.  By keeping the heat low, the cheese has time to melt before the bread gets too dark.

2.  Add cheese to each slice.  I usually use about 2 oz of cheese in a sandwich.  If you like it thick, gooey, and oozing all over the plate, go for more.

3.  When cheese is mostly melted, add garnish.  It will not cook inside the sandwich, so have it prepared the way you intend to eat it before it goes in.

4.  Carefully close sandwich using a spatula.  Continue to cook until bread is browned on both sides just as dark as you like it.  Serve hot.

Makes 1 sandwich

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Garden Update

One month in, and nothing died.
The tomato plant is going to town.  So are the bugs in the neighborhood. I had hoped to raise organic veggies, but I'm not a fan of bugs when they eat more than they pollinate.  Out comes the spray.  I triple-checked that it's safe to use on vegetable plants.  I have many, many flowers, and about a dozen little, green, wanna-be tomatoes.  A week-long heat wave helped things along immensely.  The two largest tomatoes are bigger than my thumb nail.  No idea how big they're going to get or how long they take to ripen once they reach that size.  I'm hoping for gazpacho by Memorial Day.

The eggplant is equally happy, and one of the flower buds is about to open.  It seems less tasty to local pests.  Little FYI, eggplant buds have thorns.  So do lemon branches, and those hurt a lot more.

As a reminder, here's how they started:

I'm not as sure about the artichoke.  First of all, a quick trip to wikipedia would have told me not to expect anything edible for a year.  This one is a long-term project.  Second, the pot it was in did not have adequate drainage, and it was choking to death.  Third, bugs seem to love the leaves.  It's trying, it really is, so I transplanted it into the ground.  If this is a slow-growing plant, it needs a proper home.  It almost died the first day after the transplant, but is fighting to hang on.  At least the gardener didn't think it was a weed and rip it out.

Meanwhile, since things were going so well, I decided to sink in another $6 for some corn seedlings.  That's 12-18 ears of corn, for those keeping track.  There was a patch of ground next to the lemon tree not doing anything.  After I got the seedlings home, I found out why.  Hard, sandy soil.  I found some better dirt in a corner behind the lemon tree for half of them, and a less-than-ideal patch of somewhat sandy soil on the other side of the yard for the rest.  Both sets seem to like their environments, but the lemon tree neighbors are taking off faster.  Could have to do with the quality of sun exposure.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mashed Butternut Squash

You can buy pre-peeled and diced butternut squash!  Yes, it's about twice the price per pound of whole squash, but it is SO worth it!  This was one of those things I bought simply to tell the manufacturers to keep making the product.  (A side note: one year, I emailed Dannon that I appreciated them making a KLP yogurt, and they sent me a bunch of coupons, some of them for free stuff.  It never hurts to give a company a compliment.)

Anyway, I decided that mashed butternut would be a good counterpoint to mustard pork chops.  (Same recipe as the regular pork chops, but you smear on a grainy deli mustard before coating in bread crumbs.)  The recipe also goes very well with poultry as an alternative to mashed potatoes.

1 lb butternut squash, diced in 1" pieces
1/4 C butter
1/4 C milk
1 Tb brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger

1.  Place squash in a saucepan and fill with water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until squash is tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain.

2.  Transfer cooked squash to a mixing bowl.  Beat with electric beaters to break up chunks.  Add remaining ingredients and beat until creamy.  If dry, add a little more milk.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π if you buy pre-cut squash,  :-0 if you cut it yourself

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Buttermilk Pancakes

I was still using up buttermilk, and these seemed to be the quickest way to do it.  The recipe was from, which is a great site because you can scale any recipe to serve just how much you need.

Pancakes are easy, and people like them.  Best reason to make them.

2 C flour
2 Tb sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
*2 C buttermilk
1/3 C milk
2 eggs
1/4 C butter, melted
vegetable oil

1.  Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs.  Add buttermilk, milk, and butter and beat together.

2.  Preheat frying pan or pancake griddle.  Grease lightly with oil.

3.  Stir together wet & dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined.  Don't worry if there are still some dry lumps; they will disappear before you get to the bottom of the bowl.

4.  Spoon 1/4 C of batter onto griddle for each pancake.  Let cook until bubbles stop coming up and underside is lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes.  Flip and cook other side until lightly browned.  Transfer to warm platter, re-oil griddle, and go at it again.  Repeat until all batter is used.  Do not store batter to use later; it will not rise.

Makes about 2-1/2 dozen

Difficulty rating  π